Herbal medicine and Christianity – can the two coexist? Can you be a Christian and practice herbalism?
Why do people think you cannot practice herbal medicine and Christianity at the same time?
Herbal Medicine and Christianity
If you love herbal medicine, and you’re a Christian, then I have good news for you: you can be both an herbalist and a Christian with no fear of compromising your faith and values.
But it gets tricky.
Many, if not most, of the resources available to learn herbalism, are filled with influences and references that devout Christians cannot include in their daily lives.
For example, I’ve read books exhorting herbalists to ask the plant’s “spirit” for permission before harvesting it. Other books encourage incorporating goddess worship and other non-Christian concepts into one’s herbalism practice.
Obviously, these are things that Christians cannot do.
But why are they mixed in with herbalism in the first place?
Herbalism Is the World’s Oldest Medicine
I think the issue goes back to the origins of herbal medicine. Herbalism is the world’s oldest medicine.
Otzi, the nickname given to the world’s oldest mummy discovered in the Swiss Alps, carried medicinal herbs in a pouch on his belt and may have had acupuncture treatment during his lifetime.
The ancient Egyptian used a wide range of herbs and plants in their cosmetics, beauty routines, and healing rituals.
The Chinese invented systems of medicine that included herbs, as did the Indians with their ayurvedic systems of healing.
The Greeks, Romans, and pagan-based European and Asian cultures all used some type of plants for health and healing. Plant-based healing along with other ‘natural’ cures such as hydrotherapy (water baths) and special diets was common worldwide until recent times.
Plants Contain Useful Compounds
Scientists have long recognized that plants contain many useful compounds for health and healing.
Chemists extracted acids from willow bark and made aspirin; digitalis, a potential toxin from the foxglove plant, can be transformed in the laboratory into a pill to treat angina (chest pain from heart disease). Scientists continue to study plants such as St. John’s Wort for their potential as anti-depressants.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds all contain macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates), healthful compounds (vitamins, minerals, fiber), and antioxidants that protect the body from cellular damage, help repair cells, and perform thousands of tasks in the human body.
Scientists have only just begun understanding the role that antioxidants play in human health. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat to Live, espouses a fully plant-based diet to ensure his patients have the best opportunity to consume antioxidants. He has seen patients reverse heart disease, improve their blood sugar levels, and reverse many chronic diseases by changing their diet, and his theory is that it is the antioxidants in plants should be credited with these healthy changes.
Plants Are a Gift
Herbs are simply a category people have given to a specific group of plants. An herb can be a weed (dandelion or purslane), a flower (St. John’s Wort, roses, violets, calendula), a leafy plant (oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, mullein, parsley), or a plant which can be grown for its ornamental beauty as well as its healing properties (Echinacea, lavender). Motherwort offers good support for the nervous system, as does Skullcap.
Some plants, such as hops, are grown as food crops – hops is an ingredient in beer – but also serve medicinal purposes. Ginger added to a stir-fry adds taste but a ginger tea quells nausea. Turmeric in curry brightens its hue and adds a zesty spicy taste but it is also a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herb.
We Should Use Plants Wisely and Thank Him!
Plants are neither good nor bad, neither godly nor ungodly – they are a GIFT given to the world by our creator, to be used for our needs and the needs of his creatures.
Herbal Medicine Can Co-Exist with Christianity
Viewed in this light, herbal medicine can certainly co-exist with Christianity. The Bible is filled with references to healing plants. The three wise men brought two to Jesus’ parents as a gift as his birth – frankincense and myrrh.
In the Old Testament, God tells Adam and Eve they may eat of any plants in the garden (except of course the Tree of Good and Evil — and we know how that story turned out.) We are encouraged by God himself to make good and healthy use of plants as healing agents for our bodies.
Beware of Pagan Influences
The tricky part for Christians is learning about herbal medicine without participating or supporting the pagan practices that are so rampant in the herbal community.
Many popular herbalists espouse Wiccan, pagan, or similar ideals. I have read their books and simply skip over the instructions that contradict my faith. If the herbalist has a good reputation as a knowledgeable plant person but they want me to thank the goddess before I make a tincture, I simply skip it and follow the rest of the recipe.
Resources for Christian Herbalists
If you find it difficult to do this, then I would suggest utilizing resources in the list of books for Christian herbalists that I have put together. I also run a group on Facebook for Christian herbalists where like-minded folks can gather and talk about the plants themselves – growing, harvesting, preserving, and using – without the paganism rituals often associated with herbalism.
The Bible Encourages the Use of Plants
There is nothing against using plants for food or medicine in the Bible. We are, however, cautioned to also use the common sense that God has given to us. He’s also put very smart people in the world who have created laboratory-based medicines that do a lot of good for a lot of people.
Herbalism isn’t all or nothing. In the best of all possible worlds, we should choose plants as our first line of defense, or perhaps or offense to keep ourselves healthy.
When that fails, and we become ill, we should seek out a healer and follow their advice. If the problem is serious enough, we may choose to take manmade medicines, undergo surgery, or otherwise use “modern medicine.”
Common sense should prevail.
Would You Avoid a Museum Because It Contains a Pagan Statue?
Many Christians seem to think that herbal medicine and Christianity cannot co-exist. But they can. Avoiding herbalism for fear it has devilish roots is just silly. Would you avoid a museum because there are pagan artifacts such as pottery or sculpture on display?
Embrace herbal medicine, Christians. Keep your minds free and focused on God and godly things, avoid the clearly pagan references and teachers, and weigh the value of the information you’re obtaining if the teacher, book, or workshop includes pagan resources. And, most of all, in all things, moderation, care, and common sense.
Herbs are the people’s medicine. Christians, it’s really okay to study herbal medicine.
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Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.